JimCareKnowledge editor Jim Kennedy considers the implications of proposals to end local authority involvement in the recruitment and assessment of prospective adopters:

The Department for Education continues to invest a sizeable proportion of its limited available child care-focused resources in efforts to improve what it sees, in some measure, as a failing adoption system. Their latest [www.jfhc.co.uk/councils_could_lose_adoption_powers_in_service_shakeup_30362.aspx]take those concerns a couple of stages further down the road to reform.

Whilst there must be legitimate concern about the numbers of children awaiting adoption, and about some of the evidence suggesting delays in approving prospective adopters, the time and energy spent on this part of the system is in sharp contrast with government efforts, in relation to the rest of the child care issues, with which local authorities and others are grappling. If other parts of the system are ignored or starved of improved resources, it’s hard to see how standards earlier in the child care process will be maintained, let alone, enhanced.

This relentless focus on adoption alone also brings with it the danger that we will lose sight of the fact that adoption and adoption decisions are only one part of a much wider set of social work and social care practices that attempt to support vulnerable families and children.

Not all roads lead to adoption; not all children arrive labelled: likely to be adopted. Concentrating on getting the end of the system that provides permanence (and further focussing on only one type of permanence) can make it look like that’s what the entire system is designed to deliver.

Incidentally, the last point above is not the same as saying that Government is trying to design a system to serve the needs of adopters (a point that they recognise has been made – and which they refute, in the current report).

That, I think remains a legitimate criticism of other parts of the reform package, most notably the drive to have foster-to-adopt placements as the norm. I do not think you can escape the conclusion, that, particularly for natural (often young themselves) parents of young children, that style of placement tilts the tables significantly against them, if a decision to pursue adoption, contrary their wishes, is made.

You’ll need to read the detail of the report for yourselves but I find it full of worrying gaps and logistical holes. And I certainly think other ways of achieving the end of more effective recruitment could be considered.

What is of central importance is that the skills and resources to recruit adopters currently lie in local authorities and to a lesser extent in adoption agencies (some of whom are local). Any move to a different national approach must not risk the loss of those resources and skills.

Other methods could be found to aggregate national information and require local partners to contribute more effectively to national solutions. Requiring local authorities to pay the going-rate for placements found would be a start.

And, whatever else, it would seem likely that the removal of local authority involvement in adopter recruitment would further detach that activity from other parts of the child care system. It would also move the system towards a more nation-wide approach to placements, with the consequent risks to the development of local placements for local children – where that is in their best interests. 

For more from Jim visit www.careknowledge.com/secure/contenttypes/blog.aspx